If you're the sort of rock-dweller who has remained blissfully clueless about the Harry Potter phenomenon, but now you're feeling left out and want to catch up, you could do no better than to see Potted Potter.
This cheerfully daft U.K. import, now at the Panasonic Theatre, is a crash course in all things Harry, from Quidditch to Horcruxes to the ambiguous nature of Severus Snape. And if that last sentence was just gibberish to you, never fear – by the end of this show you'll have the mysteries of the Potterverse unlocked for you, courtesy of a couple of lovably loopy guides named Dan and Jeff.
These are actor-writers Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who have set themselves the mad task of acting out all seven of J.K. Rowling's novels in just 70 minutes. Of the two, Jeff's the sober-sided HP expert. Dan's the silly nit whose grasp of the books is a tad slippery. He seems to have confused them with The Chronicles of Narnia – hence the wooden wardrobe he's provided as a set piece at centre stage. As for his promised replica of Hogwarts, Harry's alma mater, in his confusion he's instead come up with a pair of warthogs.
No matter. The two plunge into the canon with verve, short, peevish Jeff playing the titular boy wizard and lanky, grinning Dan taking on all the other 300 characters in the books – give or take a few. Silly hats and sillier accents are the order of day, as well as cheap props. Lord Voldemort's deadly pet serpent Nagini is represented by a toy snake. Dobby the house-elf is a hand puppet. Dan assures us there will be a really spectacular dragon for the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There had better be – he's blown the show's budget on it.
Like Rowling's books, this is a show for all ages – though it favours the preteens. (Note that Hogwarts/warthogs joke.) Jeff and Dan fast-forward through the books like a couple of high-energy kids acting them out in the backyard. They spray one another with Silly String and the audience with a Super Soaker – yes, we're pulled into the action, too. One of the highlights has Dan supervising the entire auditorium in a Quidditch match – minus the flying broomsticks, of course.
But there are funny bits aimed just at the older crowd. Jeff uses a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the recurring template Rowling uses in writing her books. (Basically, any character who first appears to be bad will likely turn out to be good – and vice versa..) And they take a few digs at the larger ambitions of the later novels. That fat door-stopper of a finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is pithily summed up as being about "camping and death." As for the two-part movie version, "part one was about camping and part two was about death." (Not actually an inaccurate assessment, when you think about it.)
It's all affectionate joshing, of course. Clarkson and Turner's show originated as a five-minute skit to entertain queuing book-buyers when the sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released in 2005. In its expanded form, Potted Potter has become a little phenomenon itself, playing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and London's West End to acclaim as well as touring internationally. This Toronto engagement is its North American debut.
If it has an obvious model, it's an earlier British import, the Reduced Shakespeare Company's 1980s hit The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). In that much-produced spoof, three actors whip through the Bard's oeuvre at warp speed. Its hysterical finale has them performing all of Hamlet in less than a minute.
The Potted Potter lads, under Richard Hurst's swift but seldom frenzied direction, take their time in comparison. Occasionally they could make better use of it. Rowling's eccentric wizards are ripe for parody, especially as incarnated in the films, but apart from Dan's Ralph Fiennes-ish Voldemort, they settle for the quickest of quick sketches.
While it's fun family entertainment, Potted Potter doesn't really give a sense of why so many people are wild about Harry. But if you've been in the dark, you will come away finally knowing what it is they're so wild about.
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience
- Written and performed by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner
- Directed by Richard Hurst
- Produced by Starvox Entertainment and Potted Productions
- At the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience runs until March 25.
Special to The Globe and Mail